John Cusack in 2012
Skyscraper-toppling earthquakes, sea-rocking tidal waves, miles-wide chasms, entire countries disappearing…and that’s just in the first five minutes of 2012, the latest end-of-the-world dispatch from director Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow). In it, John Cusack stars as Jackson Curtis, a ne’er-do-well whose frustrated wife (Amanda Peet) has taken their two kids and moved on, with a new man in the family. When a global catastrophe (which the Mayans are said to have predicted to happen in December of 2012) nearly wipes out humanity, Jackson and his family struggle against all odds to become some of the very few survivors facing a brave new (and very waterlogged) world.
Emmerich, the cast (Cusack, Peet, and Chiwetel Ejiofor) and various journalist types converged recently in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to dish on choosing which world landmarks were most fun to destroy, the wild ‘n crazy sets, and where they’ll be at the dreaded end of 2012.
Q: What do you all think will happen in 2012?
Roland Emmerich: Well, I will go ski. It is December 21st, which is skiing season. I will choose the highest mountain there is. If the world ends, you know, what can I do? If not, I will ski down.
John Cusack: I will try to get on Roland’s trip!
Amanda Peet: Yeah, can I come?
Chiwetel Ejiofor: I don’t ski, so I can’t join them. Besides, I think avalanches are something to worry about, so I’ll just spend it quietly with family and friends and hope for the best.
Amanda Peet: I am kind of a hypochondriac, and I worry about a lot of things, so I’m really going try to not worry about it too much.
Cusack: What I think will happen [is] a shift in consciousness, rather than an actual end of days.
Q: John, what attracted you to this film?
Cusack: I read the script and it was a real page-turner. They have this scene where Rome burned and Paris fell. How do you shoot that? Then the catastrophes got bigger and the places where the characters were safe got smaller. The movie actually got more intimate as it went along...I haven’t seen that with most action films. I thought that was really clever.
Q: Do you think of this film as a sort of cautionary tale?
Emmerich: I don’t think the film is to warn about anything, so it is not a cautionary tale. Only what is important in life and what is savable, and how should we save things. I am always a little suspicious of governments, so it is also an expression of that. Then I always think movies have to be fun. If a movie is not fun, I don’t want to do it.
Cusack: I think it also taps into the paranoia around the world.
Ejiofor: People tend to find great unity in tragedy. I think that is one of the things this story talks about.
Q: Roland, as always, the destruction is huge-scale and worldwide. How do you choose which places you will destroy in your films?
Emmerich: Well, it is not like I walk around and I think, “I could destroy this or I can destroy that.” Like a world tour: Why did you destroy our city? [Laughter] Jackson Curtis lives in L.A., and I live in L.A. Everyone in L.A. constantly talks about when California will sink into the ocean, and then we just decided to do that. Yellowstone Park was kind of intricate in the story too. At one point, we discussed some part you could not save. For example, the Sistine Chapel and the famous painting where God and Adam touch fingers. Why don’t we have the church fall on people’s heads? I am against organized religion so that is how we thought of it. [Laughter]
Cusack: You have to be careful if you are standing outside a church!
Emmerich: The message is never pray in front of a big church. Pray by yourself. [Laughter] We had one angle where you see the Pope in the background, and these shots were done in England by the same guys who did Angels & Demons. They conveniently left out the Pope. I said, We have to see a little bit of him. He is the Chairman, after all.
Q: What about the JFK Aircraft carrier destroying the White House?
Emmerich: [Co-writer] Harald [Kloser] said, If you don’t destroy the White House, you will be asked about that. I said, I cannot destroy the White House again. He said, Well, just do it in a different way.
Q: Why not do something really controversial and take out an Islamic site?
Emmerich: I wanted to do that, but Harald said, I will not want to have a [target] on my head because of a movie. He was right. In the Western world, we have to think about it.
Q: Was it difficult to act properly against the scenes of destruction?
Peet: You have a camera this close to you, and obviously you are looking at nothing. He would have to narrate, basically bit-by-bit, what tragic [event] we were responding to. It was hard for us new people to know how to calibrate our responses to this incredible destruction.
Cusack: It was all rigged out, almost like a video game. You couldn’t really see it, but you knew that you were going to be flying through these two buildings with a train going over your head. The planes and the cars were all on hydraulics. When I come to pick [my family] up, there is an entire city block with white picket fences and houses and the whole thing was on hydraulics. A whole city block with cars on it was pulsating, so it was pretty wild!
Ejiofor: I got off pretty lightly, being in the government. I had a couple of days of fun work, but that was it. I was slightly envious not to be able to work on the shaky floor. It looked pretty cool.
Q: John, you tend to play flawed yet kind-hearted characters who find redemption. Do you relate to that type?
Cusack: I think it is a combination of people of what people see me as, or the type of role they want to give me, and there isn’t much drama in people that are happy and well-adjusted. I am definitely flawed so I’m sure it comes through.
Q: This film had a lot of funny dialogue. Did you intentionally try to insert the funny dialogue to offset the catastrophic events?
Emmerich: I always believe that when such an extreme thing happens, and it is about survival, you have to give the people release. If they cannot laugh once in a while, they will not enjoy the movie. We went for the tone of Independence Day, which is similar.
Q: You also tend to incorporate a lot of melodrama in your films, as opposed to just action. Why?
Emmerich: When you tell stories about human beings, some people call it melodramatic. I call it heartfelt and true. I think when you make movies like this, you have to make people laugh, cry, and scared. I try to do that.
Q: You’ve said you’re done with the disaster genre. Is it really true?
Emmerich: I think so, because I had a hard time convincing myself to do [this]. Then I said, if I do it one more time, I would do it in the biggest way it could possibly be done. So, hopefully, I have it out of my system. I also say, never say never.
Q: What would you like audiences to take away from this film?
Emmerich: It is about survival and regular people becoming heroes, and I think people can identify with that. They will ask themselves if they would be as brave as Jackson Curtis. That is what I hope they take from it. We cannot make a movie like this and end it badly. It would be kind of sad. In a sense, this is modern retelling of Noah’s Ark. There were survivors and at the end there is hope. That is exactly what we wanted to convey.
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